Meeting the Innovation Challenge
Edited by John Bessant and Tim Venables
Chapter 4: Innovation Policy as Cargo Cult: Myth and Reality in Knowledge-led Productivity Growth
Alan Hughes In the immediate post-Second World War years a series of millenarian movements known as cargo cults1 swept through Melanesia. They emerged in the aftermath of intensive US contact in the course of the Second World War. These contacts led to a substantial increase in the material goods available to Melanesian islanders, but the end of the war meant that such material goods became less available as military withdrawal occurred. In these circumstances cargo cults emerged in which prophets would promise the return of cargoes of material goods by their ancestors (often expected to take the form of the Americans) with cargo typically shipped in the airplanes that had been such a common feature of the war experience. The means by which the return of the cargo was to be encouraged varied between diﬀerent cults in diﬀerent islands, but frequently involved the ritual preparation and construction of a variety of structures such as airﬁelds, storage facilities, landing strips and associated paraphernalia. Cult members were encouraged to abandon previous cultural practices and often mimicked the behavioural characteristics of Americans (Worsley 1957; Jarvie 1964). The emergence of these cults did not lead to the return of material cargo. There is in my view a danger today that the evolution of innovation policy structures based on copying perceived cultural characteristics and structures of the US innovation system will also fail to deliver the goods. In the case of innovation policy, the cargo is improved economic welfare through improved productivity...
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